- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Perhaps the biggest game within the game when Pittsburgh plays at Tennessee on Sunday will be Titans Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson against the Steelers' stout defense.
Johnson has rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 consecutive games. He rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
Can Pittsburgh end Johnson's streak? I checked in with Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson to get some answers.
Matt, in general, how do you view this matchup between Johnson and Pittsburgh's defense?
Matt Williamson: Well, it's strength against strength. Johnson is as good as any player in the league. He's very elusive and a lot more powerful than people realize. He's an aggressive runner and he's not afraid of contact. The other thing is I think opponents stack the line of scrimmage too much. So when Johnson gets past that first and second level, he's gone. I think the Steelers might try to defend Johnson with seven because they are so good against the run. And Pittsburgh has guys like Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark to keep everything in front of them and eliminate the big plays.
How does Johnson continue to put up huge numbers when everyone knows he's getting the football?
MW: What's interesting is if you look at Johnson's numbers when Kerry Collins was the quarterback, he was good but it wasn't Pro Bowl-caliber. But when Vince Young got behind center, Johnson became great as a runner because it's so much harder to defend the run when Vince is in the game. If you're those Steelers outside linebackers, you can't just crash the inside run. You need to hold contain in case Young might pull it out of Johnson's belly and run. You're so afraid of Young that it opens things up for Johnson. And obviously he has supreme talent. He's such as a great runner and his line is very good. So are the peripheral players -- the tight ends, the receivers, the fullback. It's an awfully good formula, but it does amaze me that he continues to break so many long runs.
Can the Steelers duplicate last year's success, where they held Johnson to 57 yards on 15 carries?
MW: I think the Steelers have the best run defense in the league, and he's going to have a tough go at things. But Johnson can always break the 80-yard run, too. I think the Steelers do better against power running backs like Michael Turner and Brandon Jacobs, just because they're a pretty heavy front seven. If anything, I would say they're more physical than fast.
So what's your over/under for Johnson's rushing yards this week?
MW: He has 12 straight 100-yard games. But this is going to be as tough a test for Johnson as any. I would put the over/under around 90-95 yards, and probably another 30 yards as a receiver.